Well, this is it. It’s been another year of that has consisted of pandemic challenges. But the last Saturday of football for 2021 is fast approaching.
Bookies are leaning toward Melbourne to break their 57-year premiership drought, but the Bulldogs are a very real chance at winning what would be a remarkable flag, on the back of a deep and long finals run. Who’s going to win it all?
Who’s got the Norm Smith? Can Max Gawn shift into beast mode again? We answer those questions ahead of the 2021 AFL grand final.
1. Is Max Gawn capable of another beast mode performance?
Is he capable? In short: yes. But the question is: can he repeat what he did against Geelong on Saturday? That would be remarkable if he did.
And if he did the Demons would win the flag. The Bulldogs match up better against the Demons. Luke Beveridge is a different coach who out-mastered Ken Hinkley.
So expect Gawn to get some treatment which means it’s hard to see him repeating that same performance again against a Bulldogs team that wiped the floor with Port Adelaide.
2. Who will win the Norm Smith?
If the Brownlow is anything to go by, you’d have to say, Marcus Bontempelli and Clayton Oliver are going to go close in claiming this accolade. But both teams boast strong and deep midfield teams that anyone of their ball winners could win it.
And if grand finals are about taking opportunities in front of goal, then Bulldogs’ Aaron Naughton and Demons’ Bailey Fritsch are two forward candidates that could also be in the running.
I can’t remember a defender in recent times winning a Norm Smith, and even Jason Akermanis was stiff in 2003 when he booted five goals and still didn’t win it.
3. Which team will boast a secret weapon?
The Hawks had Stuart Dew in 2008. Jason Akermanis did it for Brisbane in 2003. Dom Sheed iced the flag for the Eagles against Collingwood in 2018, with one of the best kicks you’ll see from the boundary. So, who’s capable of producing a cameo, match-winning role on Saturday?
For the Demons, Max Gawn is the most obvious one, only because his five-goal haul against the Cats is engrained in our minds. Christian Petracca is another one that has been stepping up big all year — just when the Demons need a goal, he’s the one that executes under pressure.
A less obvious choice would be livewire Kysaiah Pickett who can hit the scoreboard frequently in small patches.
In the Bulldogs camp, Bailey Smith, Cody Weightman, and Josh Schache have all produced stellar performances throughout the finals, and if given the freedom, will be able to execute efficient, and potentially, match-winning roles.
Smith kicked a match-winner against the Lions. Weightman booted four goals and killed off Essendon, while Schache, more subtle, has been getting better each week as a contested-mark key forward and could be primed for a break-out on grand final day.
4. Which winning team will have the best premiership story?
It’s a real toss up.
Melbourne clings to their 57-year drought narrative, which would be impressive to snap. In terms of droughts, the Demons own the fourth-longest drought and have only appeared in two grand finals since 1964. When the Bulldogs won in 2016, they broke a 62-year drought — third longest. I think, historically, the Demons win would have more meaning.
But let’s not forget the Bulldogs run here: they’ve won three finals in Tasmania, Queensland and South Australia. They lost Josh Bruce.
They had challenges travelling through the pandemic. It has shades of their dogged, gritty, 2016 run — but feels like a greater accomplishment as a stand alone flag, if they win, because it required more grit, more alignment, more chemistry and a backs-to-the-wall mindset.
5. Who will win it all?
Melbourne seems to be the sentimental choice. This is no irrational thought. They will be playing in their first grand final since 2000, having not won a premiership since 1964. Their recent form has been devastating and it’s hard to erase how they threw Geelong off a cliff in one quarter.
But the Bulldogs have a real shot too. I mean, somehow they’re still here, hanging in tough, when just about everyone wrote them off even before the finals series started. Their journey to the holy grail has been fascinating to watch and has become some kind of Cinderella story.
The heart wants what it wants, and that is a Melbourne premiership. Heck, everyone wants the Demons to win. Watching the Demons defy the naysayers all year has been a joy to watch. Even as they kept winning, no-one believed their form was real.
Well, it is real. They showed the AFL just how they’ve evolved in all areas of the game — defensive strength, the litany of goal kickers, the role players, and the elite performances from Petracca, Gawn, May.
Look: It’s Melbourne time. It’s time they break that horrific 57-year premiership drought. It’s their time and I’m here for it.